Not to sound like my mother, but kids these days have it easy when it comes to their careers. They can be almost anything they want. When I was growing up, there were only three acceptable professions: lawyer, banker or doctor. And by doctor, my mother meant a real doctor. Not a dentist. And by banker, she meant a vice-president, not the guy sitting behind the teller looking bored as he shuffled money through the machine. If you deviated from that holy trinity, Mother would walk around the house for months clutching her heart and grimacing in pain.
“After all we’ve sacrificed for you, this is how you repay us!” she told my brother Jack after he said that he wanted to be architect. “You could at least become an engineer!” In the end, Jack became an art teacher and on the day he graduated, Mother cancelled her week’s mahjong sessions and took to bed with a splitting migraine.
How the world has changed since then. Today, little Alice can come home and announce that she wants to become a musician and immediately the parents have images of her CD at the top of the charts. Or if little Meng says he likes cars, daddy will start fantasizing about a career in F1.
It’s fascinating to imagine how our lives would have turned out if we’d had the same choice of careers while growing up. And at a party the other day, the topic came up between the seventh margarita and the fifth vodka shot.
“I thhhink I would have been a fash…uhm…fashion model,” my flatmate Amanda slurred modestly while sprawled on the sofa. “I have amazing cheekbones!”
“And you also have such lovely long legs!” Saffy said, her face turning pink.
“Oh, that’s so sweet of you! You really think I have nice legs?” Amanda stretched her legs and peered down. You could see several guys shift uncomfortably in their seats.
“They’re fabulous!” Saffy insisted.
“What would you be if you had your life all over again, Saffy?” someone asked.
“I’d probably be a princess!”
In the gathering quiet, faces screwed up as brains tried to connect with ears and eyes tried to focus.
Eventually, someone else said, “That’s not a profession, surely? Don’t you have to be born into a royal family or something?”
Saffy’s formidable bosom shifted. “Oh, that’s too much hard work. I would have just married a prince. I think Prince William is a total fox!”
“Losing his hair though,” said Amanda, regular reader of the gossip magazines.
“OK, his hunky brother Harry, then!”
There was a general rumble of agreement on that point and everyone agreed that Saffy would have made a terrific princess, if only her ridiculously short-sighted parents hadn’t insisted that she enrolled in a management course at university, and now she was forever stuck as a lowly paid, unappreciated HR manager.
“But it could have been worse,” Saffy said, sniffling into her gin and tonic. “I could have been a…a…oooh…what do you call those people?”
“Astronauts?” Amanda hazarded.
“Uhm, a gardener?” someone else guessed, as Saffy gestured wildly.
“No! No! Those people! You know! Those people who do that thing with their fingers!” Saffy made pinching motions.
“Oh, I know! I know! Prostitutes!” I shouted. And got hit several times with a sofa cushion.
This went on for a while before finally someone said, “Do you mean beauty therapists?”
Saffy beamed with pleasure. “That’s it! Beauty therapish…therapist! Oh, I would hate to do their job!”
“Listen, if there is a more vile job out there, I can’t think of it!” Saffy declared. “Imagine spending your whole day pressing crap out of people’s noses and chins!” Saffy’s fingers pinched and squeezed the air as everyone at the party turned their minds towards a lifetime of pore extraction.
The next morning, the three of us sat at the dining table, feeling very sorry for ourselves and passing around the bottle of Panadol.
“Someone please stop the world from spinning!” Amanda moaned.
“I’m never touching alcohol ever again,” Saffy swore. “What’s wrong with you, Jason?”
I gingerly touched my face. “My nose hurts.”
Amanda leaned forward and peered. “Hmm, it’s a bit red. Especially around the chin and…”
You could feel the world spin to a stop as the events of the previous night caught up with our hangovers. Suddenly, I got flashes of Saffy’s face looming large over me and people laughing and cheering. Amanda frowned as she thought. Meanwhile, Saffy stared at me and then down at her fingers. Snapshots of memory slid treacherously into place.
We started screaming at the same time.